We’ve lost another one.
Returned missionary and nationally known musician Tyler Glenn of the band Neon Trees shocked many yesterday with the release of his new solo song “Trash,” in which he seems to make a definitive break with his Mormon faith.
The video, which you can watch here, shows Glenn:
- Drinking alcohol,*
- Spitting on a picture of Joseph Smith (whose image has been caricatured), and
- Making hand gestures that appear to be reminiscent of the temple ceremony.
Glenn speaks of losing himself, of losing his identity, in a religion that has tried to suppress him. This religion would sell his soul if given half a chance; it keeps throwing him out, again and again, telling him he is worthless.
But “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he concludes. And to those who would exclude him, “Maybe I’ll see you in hell.”
The video is fascinating—all enclosed spaces, all confining. It’s initially shot in a dark hallway decorated with portraits of the founding prophet, and then in an ornately decorated elevator where the walls appear closed in and the camera bears down on him.
The Mormon religion, it seems to say, is claustrophobic—and since the video ends with Tyler Glenn’s mock death, apparently fatal.
To say that it’s a departure from his previous approach to Mormonism is an understatement. Here’s what he told Rolling Stone in 2014, around the time of his coming out, about the tension between being Mormon and being gay:
"I don't know what the rumors are, but we're not taught that 'homos are going to hell' on Sunday in church. Mostly it's just about Christ and his teachings."
And here’s what he told the same magazine in an interview published yesterday to accompany the video’s release:
"My entire life and perspective on God, the afterlife, morals and values, my self-worth and my born sexual orientation has been wired within the framework of this religion that doesn't have a place for me.
I served [this church]. I was the square peg trying to fit into the round hole. I believed it till six months ago."
The “gut punch” that catalyzed his faith crisis was the LGBT policy that was leaked in November, he told Fox News. Prior to that, he had “naively thought” Mormonism had a place for him, only to discover in November that the faith would not, in reality, make room for LGBT people.
Mormons are reacting intensely to the song and to his dramatic departure (Glenn says he has not resigned from the church, but he has lost all faith in it). Much of this is predictable Mormon “OMGosh he defiled the holy temple” indignation, but some is impassioned cheering from people feeling similar anger and betrayal about the LDS Church’s position.
Personally, the only thing in the video that struck a false note with me was Glenn spitting on a picture of Joseph Smith, as if Smith were the ultimate representation of what the contemporary, corporate LDS Church is doing. I think, in contrast, that if Brother Joseph were around to see how the Church has treated some of God’s gay sons and daughters he would be spitting too.
One more thought on the video. I’ve heard Nadia Bolz-Weber, who knows a thing or two about pain, say we should preach from our scars, not our wounds. In general, I agree with this. There can be great wisdom in allowing creativity to be fueled by our eventual healing, not by our immediate circumstances of anger or loss.
But sometimes waiting is difficult, because the pain is so very raw, and the need for solidarity so acute. I see Tyler Glenn’s video as less of a rant and more of a plea to be seen, to be known. He wants his pain to be witnessed.
And isn’t this, in the end, what we all need? A recognition that any pain that has been unjustly meted out to us was real?
It’s no accident that toward the end of the video, Glenn paints a diagonal cross on his forehead and writhes on the floor with his arms outstretched in an almost cruciform position: See here, Thomas, where I bleed from my side, my hands. See and believe.
In the gospels, the acknowledgment of suffering and the hope of resurrection occur hand in hand. Latter-day Saints cannot live as a resurrection people unless and until we squarely acknowledge that we have been wrong and we have done damage.
Tyler Glenn doesn’t need Mormons’ moral outrage about his video. He certainly doesn’t need any more people sitting in judgment on his life.
He needs Mormons to recognize that he suffered terrible pain in our church, to repent that we contributed to that suffering, and to vow: Never again will we treat a group of people as if they were disposable.
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Correction 5/2/16: An earlier version of this post said that Tyler Glenn was drinking beer in the video. Several readers have pointed out that it was more likely wine.